The Story of An Emmitsburg Born Slave
Originally Published in The Van Buren News-Eagle, Van Buren, Indiana, August 29, 1940
The following bit of history has been handed to us by Mrs. Frank
Boller, whose father, the late Wm. Hays, settled on a farm in Van Buren
township in 1849, and will be read with interest by his descendants who
so often heard him relate incidents of his boyhood and Old Uncle Ned.
In fact, the Ned referred to, helped raise the Hays family.
whom the negro was purchased, was the father of Wm. Hays, mentioned
above. Relatives include the families of John L Thompson, Captain.
Jos. Lugar, David James, Wm. Doyle, Jesse Farr, Joseph W. Hays, Thomas
Hays, John W. Hays, Samuel E. Hays, Arthur Hays, George O. Hays and C.H. Black.
On a shaded hillside in beautiful Hazelwood Cemetery in Grinnell, Iowa
is the last resting place of Edward Delaney. A tree growing from
the foot of the grassy mound testifies to the age of the grave; for the
tree is more than two feet in diameter. A head stone of the style of
fifty years ago gives witness that some one cared when the prairie sod
was cut on the treeless slope sixty-seven years ago -- cared enough to
furnish a last resting place in his own family lot -- cared enough to
ease the declining years, provide medical attention and give Christian
burial to a black man and to mark his grave with a stone bearing the
inscription: Edward Delaney, 1780-1861.
How came a negro Edward Delaney to be interred in a Grinnell cemetery?
It is difficult at this late date and this far north to appreciate the
real condition of the colored man born in slavery. Edward Delaney had
no remembrance of father or mother. His color and his features
testified to his pure African blood. He was sold as a slave in a slave
state at an early age and the man who sold him was a planter named
Delaney, hence the name of the headstone in Hazelwood.
a slave for seventy years, died a free man at seventy-five. The man who
stood long ago by the open grave, who, no doubt, brushed away a tear as
the clods fell above the still form of Uncle Ned, the man who gave
his former slave a white manís burial and who raised the stone in his
memory, had in his possession a bill of sale testifying that Joseph
Hays was the master and Edward Delaney his slave. But while legally
the owner of a slave, Joseph Hays hated the institution of slavery,
hated it to the extent that he cast the only vote cast in his county
in Maryland for John P. Hale, the Free Soil candidate for President.
It seems a long trail from Uncle Ned, the humble slave, who lies in Hazlewood cemetery to the immortal author of the Star Spangled
Banner, Francis Scott Key. Human destinies are curiously interwoven
and had it not been for the friendship of Francis Scott Key and the
father of Joseph Hays, who bought Ned, Edward Delaney would lie in an
unmarked grave on some southern plantation.
Here is the story:
We shall have to go back to the stirring days of the War of 1812.
Almost within hearing of the guns of the British fleet as they sought
to force an entrance to Baltimore Harbor by reducing Fort McHenry.
Here in Frederick (now Carroll) County, Maryland was the 400 acre plantation of Joseph
Hays, the elder, grandfather of Daniel F. and Joseph T. Hays, still
lining in Grinnell. Adjoining the Hays plantation was that of Col.
John Ross Key, father of Francis Scott Key, who during the bombardment
of Fort McHenry penciled the words of the National Anthem on a scrap
of paper Colonel Key commanded a regiment of militia called out by
President Washington in 1794 to suppress the Whiskey insurrection
in western Pennsylvania. It was in a company of Col. John Ross Keyís
regiment, composed of Frederick (now Carroll) county men, that Francis Scott Key and
Joseph Hays, friends from boyhood, served side by side, as they had
served in the War of the Revolution under Washington.
It was about
the year 1790 that Joseph Hays, then a young man of about 25, decided
to buy a little negro boy as a playmate for his eldest son Tommie.
It was with this in mind that he drove to Baltimore and thence
presumably by boat to the eastern shore of Maryland. This was a long
trip for those days before the advent of the railroad and steamboat.
At the plantation of one Delaney (Editors Note: This would be
Daniel Dulany and his plantation was called
A track a land just south of Rt. 76 and bi-sected by Old Frederick Road) where pickaninnies were plentiful
Hays purchased Neddie then four years old and took him home to Tommie
as one would take a dog or a pony.
It will be remembered that Maryland
was a slave state and that Joseph Hays assumed obligations other than
simple ownership when he bought and paid for Ned Delaney. While he
assumed ownership he also assumed responsibility for his slaveís
maintenance. He had no right to free him without giving bond for his
maintenance. This was a just provision as it prevented heartless owners
from freeing their slaves and permitting them to die without care when
their usefulness was past, or to become public charges.
Then came the War of
1812, the burning of Washington, the defense of
Baltimore and finally peace. His story repeats itself
and the average man fails to read the warnings. An
incident in the life of Ned and indicative of the
conditions following the second war with England is
illuminating. There were no railroads, few factories,
and consequently little except local traffic. This was
the era of canal construction and movement of goods was
slow and expensive. Each community had its own flour
mill where the wheat of the neighborhood was milled.
flour was hauled to the cities by teams, stored in warehouses and
distributed by the slow methods then in vogue. It was Nedís job to haul
his masterís flour from the local mill to Baltimore, some forty miles
distant. Ned was at this time in him prime, a man of about thirty-five
years of age. Shortly before peace was declared he went to Baltimore
with a load of flour to be stored in the warehouse for future sale.
Weíll tell the rest in Nedís own report of the transaction on his
return. Said Ned, The merchant said ĎTell your master heíd better
sell his flour because it going to go down.í I said, "you say flourís
going down? Then sell it.í He did and hereís your money. The sale
was made at $14.00 per barrel. The next flour Ned hauled to Baltimore
brought $4.00 per barrel. This will sound familiar to Iowa farmers,
who held $3.00 corn in the expectation of getting $3.50 after the last
A resident of Frederick (now Carroll) county at this time was one Geier, later
generally spoken of by the Hays clan as old Greier. Evidently a
man of prominence in his community, he was appointed paymaster in the
army during the war with England. Inasmuch as this position called for
the handling of considerable Government funds, it was necessary that
Geier secure bondsmen. Bonding companies were then unknown and what
more natural than that Geier looked to his brother Mason for assistance.
Joseph Hays and three neighbors, all prominent Masons and well to do
planters in Frederick (now Carroll) county signed Geierís bond. Final settlement of war
claims is always somewhat slow. The temptation to mishandle Government
funds is not new under the sun. Whatever the reason for Geierís
betrayal of his trust, we have no record. Hays and his fellow bondsmen
awake one day to find that Geier had decamped with Government funds and
they as honorable bondsmen they would have to reimburse the Government.
We can only imagine the feelings of these wealthy planters to find
themselves beggared in late life through no fault of their own. When it
appeared that his entire estate would go under the hammer to satisfy
the claim of the government, Hayís first impulse was to protect Ned,
then a healthy man, valuable as a servant, and as property, subject to
sale for debt.
When it seemed sure
that everything must go Hays sold Ned to his son, also
named Joseph, at the nominal price of $5.00. A bill of
sale was drawn up and Edward Delaney became the property
of Joseph Hays, Jr. Frances Scott Key now appears in the
picture. He is living in Washington and holding a
prominent official position. Stirred by the plight of
his boyhood friends he used his influence with Congress
and secured the passing of a special act granting the
bondsmen life leases on their plantations. In his
presentation of their cases to Congress, Key argued that
the obligation to the Government was through no fault of
the bondsmen, that the men were old and would be thrown
on charity in their declining years and that the
granting of this respite would only keep the government
out of the property for a few years at most.
In the latter part of his prophecy Key was
three-fourths correct. Three of the plantations soon passed into
Government hands by the death of their owners and were sold to
satisfy the claim. Joseph Hays, thanks to the intervention of Francis
Scott Key and a good constitution lived to enjoy the use of his
property for about thirty-five years. Faithful to his master, who had
prevented him from being Sold South Ned served the old master
while the nominal property of his son.
The old plantation served as a
home for the elder Joseph and his four sons and three daughters as well
as for the orphaned children of his son Abram.
These three, later, Abram, Samuel and Catherine, with a relative Darius
Thomas were among the early settler in Poweshick and Jasper counties.
Then came the death of the elder Joseph in 1852 at the ripe old age
of 90, having reared a large family, established them for themselves
in spite of his earlier misfortune, he passed on.
The death of Joseph
Hays terminated the life lease and after the necessary legal
formalities occupying several months, the Hays plantation went on the
block, was sub-divided into three farms and sold by the government.
There is a sequel to the story, Old Geier took his stealings
with him to Missouri, interested in cheap lands and grew wealthy. He
became a man of prominence in his new community and had the effrontery
to get himself elected to Congress. Frances Scott Key remembered the
case of his former friends. It was too late to help them; but tradition
has it that he went to Geier and compelled him to make restitution for
at least part of the stolen funds under threat of prosecution.
the death of the elder Joseph, the Hays clan, numbering now about
seventeen, found themselves without a home. This was a contingency
naturally foreseen, and like prudent people they had been laying aside
funds against the death of the aged head of the family. Also like
prudent people they cast their eyes to the West.
A council was called
and the question arose as to what would be done with Ned. Legally, he
was the property of Jos. Hays, the younger, although he had always
lived and worked for the elder Joseph. Ned was an old man now, able to
do but little work and crippled with rheumatism. The owner was
responsible for the slave and he must be provided for. It was decided
to consult Ned himself. His verdict was, Iíll stick to Debbie.
Debbie with Mary, her sister, and both unmarried, had kept the house
for their father and his family and had practically become the head of
the family at his death.
With no definite goal in view the long
journey toward the west commenced.
Three wagons with seventeen people made up the party. Three months were
required for the trip. Uncle Ned, still legally a slave, was with the
party. Still a slave he came to the Ohio river in Wheeling. When they
reached the Ohio shore two of the boys in the party lifted Uncle Ned so
he could crack his rheumatic heels together, free at last on
Ohio soil, but dependent on his white friends for care in his declining
Across the Ohio, then fairly settled; on through Indiana, on
through Illinois where a stop was made with relatives at Rushville.
Uncle Ned enjoyed every mile of the trip. A negro was a curiosity in
the north at that time. When the caravan passed through a settlement
Ned was given a seat high on the top of the highest wagon. Here he rode
in state, grinning delightedly on the small boys who scampered beside
the wagons thinking a circus was coming to town.
After looking over
Illinois lands and stopping several places in eastern Iowa, the three
land seekers arrived in Grinnell. At this pre-war time the country was
divided into two sections, the division being the Mason and Dixon Line.
Who Mason and Dixon were and why the line is a long story which it is
not necessary to enter into here. It suffices to state that prejudices
established in the east emigrated with the new settlers to the west.
Those from points above the Mason and Dixon line were know by those
farther south as blue nose Yankees, nigger stealers, etc.,
while the Yanks retaliated by calling their southern brethren,
nigger drivers, slave holders, etc. Now J.B. Grinnell and
those of his associates who settled Grinnell and vicinity were among
the blue noses. Old settlers will recall that these down easters
preferred settlers from their own section. It happened therefore
that Thomas and the Hays boys were not received in Grinnell with open
arms in spite of their well-filled purses. Land men steered them out
to the more undesirable lands on Bear Creek telling them the more
desirable tracts were all taken.
Disheartened at the prospect of
finding what they wanted near Grinnell, the three men prepared to go
on to land of which they had heard near Des Moines. They had provided
themselves with horses and were breaking camp from their camping place
near where the Spaulding Mfg. Co. building now stands, when Henry
Lawrence, one of the founders of Grinnell came by. He stopped and
asked, are you men really looking for land to move on as Settlers?
Upon being assured that such was the case he said, come with me, Iíll
show you plenty of good land. He took them north of Grinnell into
Chester Township where tracts were chosen for all members of the
Joseph Hays family who desired to emigrate.
It is of interest to note
that this land was entered at a price of $1.25 per acre.
Having found the land the three scouts returned to Illinois and prepared
for the long journey. So came Edward Delaney to Grinnell. Old time
residents will recall the double frame house on Main street across from
where the Buick garage now stands. This was the home of Aunt Debbie Hays
until her death in the late eighties. Here Uncle Ned lived and here he
died. Faithful to the last, he stuck to Debbie and Mary.
Hays lot in Hazelwood cemetery stands a simple stone bearing the bronze
emblem of the D.A.R., the last resting place of Aunt Debbie Hays, a real
daughter of the Revolution. A few feet away under the tree, with a
similar stone at the head lies all that is mortal of Edward Delaney.
He has stuck to Debbie even in death.
you know of stories of people or families who once called Emmitsburg home?
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